Tonight in Seattle:  

Best Zines of 2012: Cometbus, Mineshaft, The Prince Zine, and more

The volunteer-run, all-ages Vera Project at the Seattle Center recently hosted two Saturday celebrations of arty, musicy, writerly, printerly, poetry, baked sweet-nums creativity and I hung out at both, deflating my wallet for a huge stack of small press goodies. I do this whenever I can hit a Vera-sponsored craft thang, the most recent being the 5th Annual Hollow Earth DIY Holiday Fair, held this past December 8th. I saw some smokin' spoken word, hung out with my pals, and bought a lot of really cool music from Debacle, Medical, and ggnzla RECORDS at that one. (I'm going to write about the vinyl and CDs and DLs ASAP.) 

However, at the earlier event, the Short Run small press smorgasboard held earlier in November at the Vera, I picked up a sweet pile of chapbooks, comics, and yes zines that I've finally read through. And they're almost all brilliant. And so many of them too -- I've been going to zine events since, well, when zines were still called fanzines (but we won't get into that right now). But with the zine explosion and then zine decline-slash-advent of the boobwebs (my wife's name for the internet, I don't even want to glimpse her computer's search history), pickings at events like these started seeming meager and spare. But now that people are coming around again to the idea that owning a piece of art (which may or may not have writing and other stuff too) is actually too cool to believe and a spiritually profound way to live, no matter what your income is, old zinesters and new Do It Yourself darlings are choogling out self-published works again. To my heart's delight. 2012 seemed to be an awesomely inspiring year for those who wanted to put something out for their friends and new readers. Let's trip through the stacks fantastic (all are digest-size or thereabouts, which means half-sized, but thick with pages): 

Cometbus #54

This actually came out in 2011, but it's at the top of the list for being such an important example of how to tell a real life story about music, friends, and life. Aaron Cometbus has been making his perfect but non-pretentious collections of memoirs, essays, fiction, and reviews for many years without blowing his own horn too much about once playing in Green Day, and his own band Crimpshrine, and his work with the Gilman Street Project. If you want to learn how to live, scribble down your experiences, enjoy the best things in life (hint: money is a mere, not-too-classy option), dig in to this edition where he tags along with the punk pop trio to China for a tour for sure. This is where Aaron finally (peeps been waiting on this) examines how his friends Billie Joe and the rest gained power from being in an all ages punk rock scene, and then found lots of money and pain through ascending pop culture popularity. Aaron breaks the magician's rule by revealing many secrets of the inner circles of musicians (successful or not), and humorously juxtaposes his own addiction to literature and wandering experiential bliss with the mad-dog career of his old pals and the feral fandom of their followers. But he's still a fan. He loves these guys, and they love him, but love can be hard. (Four bucks. Available at Elliott Bay Bookstore and Sonic Boom, or order from Quimby's on the web.)

Mineshaft #28

Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri publish the been-around-awhile, elegantly crafted, and impeccably edited Mineshaft, but it looks from casual glance to be a personal zine from underground cartoonists Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky Crumb, Pat Moriarity, musician Billy Childish and many others. And in a way it is -- the material is very intimate, even if you know the names of the contributors. This zine blows your mind on several levels: It's proof the zine can be a gorgeous looking small press publication devoid of bad cut-out artwork, knee-jerk "punk" graphics, or completelty unknown artists and scribes. Everyone involved with the mag are either famous, secretly famous, or absolutely funktabulous. If you wonder about the milieu from which artists like Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and others have sprung their pals are occasionally helping this couple put out what has become my most cherished running zine. It is also very perplexing in that I avoided it as a sort of old hipster sketchbook for awhile, but once you dig into the wildness of Crumb's dream journal, or the really good poetry, or the special comics from Moriarity and Kim Deitch and other Fantagraphics-favorites, it has much more depth than it appears. Yes, something that looks this good and is by your legendary counter-culture heroes is really this great. If you dig Arthur Magazine, or want to see what VICE would be more like if it wasn't trying to get ad money, hit this. ($9 and worth it: Mineshaft, P.O. 1226, Durham NC 27702.) 

The Prince Zine

Written by Olympia-based Joshua James Amberson, who has played with Letters, Eleanor Murray, Tapestry, and Gumar and his Magical Midi Band, this is a thoughtful and fascinating study of Prince. The artwork by Rachel Lee-Carman, from Bend, Oregon, is really good, and helps Joshua describe his feelings on Prince's music, public image, and controversies (but of course). The author admits that he's not an over-the-top Princehead ("Princer"? "Princeabilly"? "Child of the Revolution"? What is a Prince fan called anyways?!). But he digs him like we all do (would you trust anyone who didn't enjoy some Prince? Really?), finds him intriguing enough to examine, and in my favorite part he lists out wild facts about the Minneapolis legend (double-hip replacement from all that dancing; claims to have made over 50 music videos for songs he's never really in any form; will probably sue you if you go near YouTube with anything he ever had anything to do with; didn't know there was a Dorothy Parker when he wrote "The Ballad of Dorothy Parker"; and yes, that Charlie Murphy story about getting his ass kicked by Prince at basketball described on the Chappelle Show is TRUE! except for the clothes). Also, Joshua writes an excellent discography of Prince, including all the weird side projects, and he's actually listened to stuff since 1988 and self-releases likeThe Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale (1999) which I didn't even know existed and would have to be drugged to listen to! (I love good discographies with descriptions because they cover records I've never bought, they help me out big time what to seek or avoid. If you want to pub a zine and have me read it, write about something we both care enough about it and review EVERYTHING the artist put out, for better or worse.) Highly recommended, probably my favorite music zine of the year. ($5 from P.O. Box 2645, Olympia WA 98507. Joshua also distributes zines and you should contact him about that if you want to buy others or have him handle yours!)

Science Fiction by David Lasky

Genius illustrator and true gentleman Mr. Lasky, whose recent Carter Family (Don't Forget This Song) book with Frank M. Young has been gobbling up great reviews and going up the graphic novel charts, was at Short Run with back issues of his legendary Seattle underground Boom Boom title, some chapbooks he'd collaborated on, and this superb new one: a zine of very short stories. "Most science fiction is, of course, a reimagined version of the present," the first chapter (a line at the bottom of the opening page) asserts. 63 more of these ideas follow, and each one could be a novel. Caveat: There is no artwork. This zine is a little smaller than the half-page sized zines hyped above; but it's just as thick with spare ruminations on technology, the creative process, the soul of art, and a lot of JFK (doesn't everything seem to loop back to him being taken out, somehow?). Best new one-shot of the year, hands down. I think I paid four dollars for it, expect to pay five if you find it out at local zine-friendly stories, or email me at chrisestey {at} hotmail {dot} com and I'll put you in touch with David.

Wow, They're Playing My Songs On The Radio, I Must Be Dead, comics ca. 1992-2012 by Mark Campos

Lucky Rabbit Press put this out just in time for Short Run at the Vera, and it's a tight, well-produced little squarebound book of Mark's charming, thought-provoking strips on music (the Chipmunks as arty famous hot messes! Jazz secrets!), the World of Art, living in the margins, and autobio. Mark's art is really excellent, pleasing to the eye and matches his gentle, genuine spirit. Fans of Seattle zines such as Pop Lust and may others will remember his spot illustrations, and at least some will have been waiting for a nice quality volume rounding up a good sample of his strip-work. ($10 from Lucky Rabbit Press, 307 Battery Street, Seattle, WA 98121)

Bad Room Mate Zine

I walked up to buy this at Short Run from editor Nicole J. Georges just as she was eating lunch, which I later found out to my horror in the zine is exactly one of the times she's least happy to be bothered by anyone. I'm glad I did though (sorry, Nicole) as I love theme-zines and this anthology was a lot of fun. Autobiographical accounts (thinly veiled or not) of universal struggle, here are some of the topics for anguished ha-has: When your roommate goes out with someone you would never think to live with, and they pretty much move in. Roommates who let their dogs use spare rooms as litter boxes. Frustrated, bi-polar food thieves who break stuff. The evil menacing corner of a house. Punk group house RATS!!! (Maybe the best story here, WOW, and yes it's about composting.) Uh, Craigslist. Roomie pees in your bed, in your closet, ate all the chocolate. Bills left behind as they hit rehab. No wait, The Queen Is Dead might be my favorite, about a hellaciously obonxious old cat which (fill in blank, I'm sure you have your own tales on this topic). Passive-aggressive notes on THE FRIDGE! A really bizarre story about a psychosexual trauma with a rich dude. All of these drip with glistening reality (unlike reality shows, where people are playing up for the cameras, these are actually all about people hoping they never get caught being freaking weirdos, or don't care, or are bragging about it). The artwork (many of the tales are comics) ranges from fair to excellent, and this is about 45 minutes to an hour's worth of truly enjoyable craziness. (Gonna say six bucks, to Bad Roommate Zine, c/o Invincible Summer, P.O. Box 12763, Portland, OR 97217).

Kinoko's The Epic of Gilgamesh Issue #1

Kinoko (used to live here, now is in Portland) is one of my favorite artists and she has done a lot of really cool issues of Zine City Comix and one shots like Primary Thought: Ideas on Education. Her simple but sensually sweeping, graffiti style-friendly work is both electric and comforting, on fire with violent ideas and yet pure honey at the center. We are proud to own pieces of her art around here, which I can stare at for hours. This is her first full-length comic and it is eye-smashing and brilliant and very professionally produced. I am so pleased she's putting her beautiful energy into cohesive graphic novel format, and it seems she found just the right source of inspiration to write and draw about: The Saga of Gilgamesh, fifth King of Urik, two-thirds god and one third man. Can't wait till there's enough of these for a book! www.kinokogallery.com

Whoops! A Late Zine Primer - and an "exception": FOUND Magazine #8

Looping back around: What's a zine?! That's actually a good question -- IF THIS WAS 1980, YA HUNK! No, seriously, there is a good answer or two to that. There are lots of books and websites and seminars and even zines to tell you what a zine is, and I suspect you prolly already know. My answer might be "anything self-published without a UPC (bar code)." Which doesn't sound too sexy, does it? And there is actually one zine with a bar code below, blowing that definition out. So a zine is a single-issue or running publication that is independently, non-corporately produced. I count FOUND Magazine as a zine, though it has the bar code, and is created by a professional author, and is distributed to lots of places where you won't be asked to sit on a collective or sign up for a benefit show. Why? It started as a zine, still reads and feels like a zine, still has a zine heart. Can I do this? Can I claim something has a "zine-heart"? I just did! Please feel free to argue with me about it at the next benefit show we find ourselves at together. Otherwise, a zine can look slick but be meant for about 20 people, could be extremely raw looking and distributed everywhere, and both are zines. And I could be wrong, because I am old and stubborn.

Now, back to FOUND Magazine #8, which can be found (ha) at many stores around town, including Left Bank Bookstore, University Bookstore, and Elliott Bay Books. This brand new issue features all the way out weird lists, creepy and cuddly photos, long angst-ridden letters never sent, and silly business cards littering the streets and any place paper-like debris collects. The stories of finding these cut-from-life chunks of personal worldviews are augmented by several features in this edition, including: An interview with Seattle filmmaker Lynn Shelton (Your Sister's Sister, Humpday), which describes her first inspirations and love for photography; and a profile of white suburban rapper Randy Edward Ingram AKA "Biggz," which is deliciously funny. I always fear my weird scribbles will one day end up floating into a FOUND (which alcohol-flavored break-up confession? What off-the-mark attempt at a song lyric? What Post-It for illegal supplies to lay low during a heat-streak or snow-storm?). But then I'm also the kind of guy who fears not describing what a zine is properly, so I guess I worry too much. 

Re: "Wow .. Songs .. Radio .. Dead": when you order, add two bucks for P&H and make checks payable to Brenda Kaslow. Copies are still available!

Thanks, Mark! Yes, make that a full $12 for his comix collection, for P&H too, and it is well worth it. (I would probably send a couple extra bucks to most people you send away to for their zines -- Mineshaft here, for example. $9 is its cover price.) Also, Kinoko says her beautiful work is available on-line at: etsy.com/shop/kinokogallery

Chris! Great article. It gives me hope for reviving some of my zine projects such as Baby Split Bowling News, Office (and art) Supply Junkie, and others hidden away in the basement mess. I never totally gave up, just lost a lot of drive. Maybe this time though I'll be able to get famous people to contribute. I haven't forgotten the first time I met Aaron Comet Bus at a Kinko's when he was passing through town. It was late night and zine night with maybe five of us there working on our zines, along with worker Mr. Mike who was working on Rump. All the best to ya'!

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